Out of Tune

When you first learn to play guitar, one of the first things that you must perfect is tuning your guitar. I remember when I first studied Classical Guitar, I used a tuning fork and harmonics to carefully tune each string. But that was before digital guitar tuners were invented. I’ve used digital guitar tuners for years, ever since the first one was released for Mac. I just plug my electric guitar into my Mac audio in port, and I can tune each string with digital precision. But for my little acoustic guitar, I still use my tuning fork.

When I bought my new Gibson Deluxe in 1976, it came with cheap tuning pegs and it would never stay in tune. I upgraded to some expensive Schaller tuning pegs, they’re much more accurate. Since I started using digital tuning, I noticed my bridge was out of adjustment a bit, so I took it to the shop to be optimized, it was a huge improvement. Now my guitar stays pretty much in tune forever.. or until I break a string. And the other day I broke a string.

I restrung my guitar and tuned up. Lately I use Guitar Rig, it has a tuner in its big bank of effects. I went back to playing along to some iTunes, doing my guitar effects in Guitar Rig. I’m playing along to tunes I’ve played a hundred times, my guitar is perfectly in tune, but suddenly my guitar is one note too low. What the hell?

I thought maybe it was some freak software glitch, some system update to the CPU timing made iTunes play back too fast, exactly one note too high? It took me a while to notice that I’d bumped a switch in Guitar Rig, I changed to a Chromatic Tuning. My guitar was perfectly tuned to a different tuning than I’ve ever used. I didn’t recognize it, I never use alternate tunings. I have enough problems playing the standard tuning.

So I set Guitar Rig back to standard tuning, retuned, and now those Ramones songs are the same tuning as my guitar again. I can rock on. Well that’s a relief, I was playing the same old notes and different notes were coming out, I thought I was going crazy. Now that’s a mistake I never would have made with a tuning fork.

3 thoughts on “Out of Tune”

  1. I have been playing and tuning guitars (by ear, by harmonics, by piano, by tuning fork, and by electronic tuners of varying sophistication) since I started playing in 1960.
    For some reason, unless I use a digital tuner, I ALWAYS get the B string a few cents high. I can always hear a sharp B string on anybody elses’s guitar, but am deaf to it on my own guitars.
    However, your comment about the advantage of the simple and basic tuning fork over elaborate electronics reminded me of my favorite Luddite story.
    Two out-of-work men were sitting on the rim of an immense quarry watching a giant diesel excavator digging up 80 tons of material at a time and loading it into massive trucks.
    One man turned to the other and complained, “If that had never been invented, there’d be work down there for 100 men with shovels.
    “And, if the shovel had never been invented,” mused the other, “there’d be work down there for 100,000 men with spoons.”

  2. I have been playing and tuning guitars (by ear, by harmonics, by piano, by tuning fork, and by electronic tuners of varying sophistication) since I started playing in 1960.
    For some reason, unless I use a digital tuner, I ALWAYS get the B string a few cents high. I can always hear a sharp B string on anybody elses’s guitar, but am deaf to it on my own guitars.
    However, your comment about the advantage of the simple and basic tuning fork over elaborate electronics reminded me of my favorite Luddite story.
    Two out-of-work men were sitting on the rim of an immense quarry watching a giant diesel excavator digging up 80 tons of material at a time and loading it into massive trucks.
    One man turned to the other and complained, “If that had never been invented, there’d be work down there for 100 men with shovels.
    “And, if the shovel had never been invented,” mused the other, “there’d be work down there for 100,000 men with spoons.”

  3. This reminds me of the HST: a mirror figured perfectly … according to an incorrect test apparatus. At least you found your error while the guitar was still on Earth 😉

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